Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Writing at the abbey...

Dearest husband, John, and I have just returned from a weekend of writing with Prairie Lands Writing Project. This was my third NWP related retreat and John’s first. We could not have asked for a more motivated group of writers to work with or a nicer place to kick back away from the craziness we know as life.

The retreat was held at Conception Abbey in Conception Missouri. Set among rolling hills, barbed wire fences, and giant windmills, Conception Abbey’s accommodations proved to be simple, clean, and peaceful. Our cell phones were out of range, the internet was not available and the rooms were simple and sparse without a television in sight. It was, or should have been, writing heaven.

John’s writing seemed productive and although he showed much reluctance to sharing his work with others, strangers to be more specific, he managed to overcome this and ended up loving the experience. He wrote beautifully about his father and made the decision to read a fun piece about unexpected surprises which everyone seemed to enjoy. He is the talent in our family – it seems that words merrily drip from his fingertips onto the page. To read John’s work is to be carried into his world of story. His words make me laugh, cry, and best of all, think. I am looking forward to traveling and writing more together.

My writing did not go quite as well. This happens to me at times, but I try to learn from each writing frustration and have learned from this past weekend. It was an adjustment to learn to write with John present. Sure, we write at home, and try to write together although we really should be doing more of this.

My professional work has always been separate from John – conference and retreats. Having him with me to discover as we traveled and to talk about our writing was great fun, but the reality of working on a difficult piece proved to be too much this weekend and I struggled to get the words out until the very last morning when I awoke obscenely earlier and threw words down on the page. This was not the writing I intended on doing, but it was writing. And, this writing was certainly better than no writing at all. I wrote about not being able to write. This was such a teacherly thing to do. I shared my experiences with my classes today. They still think writing is not hard for me.

Late on Saturday afternoon John and I decided to go for a drive. As we approached the area surrounding the abbey, we could not help but notice the towering windmills on distant hills. When we turned East toward the abbey we realized that not only were the windmills on our path to our destination but we would be amongst the giants as wind farms surrounded the abbey property. Our drive was wonderful as we ventured off the pavement and drove through a neat patchwork of working farms. The windmills were like graceful giant sentinels protecting the dwarfed barns and farmhouses on the rolling hillsides.

We ventured onto an ungated service road to get a close look at these massive pinwheels of energy. They were truly amazing. These windmills stand some two hundred and forty feet off the ground. Adding another one hundred and forty feet of windmill blade creates monsters of power. The sound was sweeping and steady in the air as we watched the sun set behind the hills.

We also visited a nearby convent. The grounds were immaculate and the buildings beautiful. It was late, so we did not stop to look around much except to walk through a beautiful cemetery on the road leading out of the grounds.

The Basilica itself was a beautiful symbol of man’s love for his god. Painted frescos on walls and ceilings portrayed biblical scenes while high arches donned smiling angels looking down on us below. This is a rare and unexpected jewel on the Northwest Missouri landscape.

The retreat grounds and guesthouse were fairly quiet except for the giggles, yelps, and fun of a boys’ summer camp in progress. They traveled around the grounds in groups with youth leaders and team flags sporting their chosen team names. We dined with them most meals and the dining room burst with young voices and laughter – not peaceful, but happy nonetheless. We all had a good laugh during Saturday’s lunch when a leader announced to the boys to “be back in forty five minutes for Meet-a-Monk!” We all burst out laughing at the spectacle of it all. The monks were kind with warm smiles and chit chat making our weekend a comfortable experience. We look forward to returning.


  1. This seemed to be a peaceful time. I was never involved in a writing weekend trip, but I use to belong to a woman's group in Indiana that once a year we took a trip of this magnitude. I loved the pictures of the windmills! How awesome.

  2. I love your way with words. Besides the fact that this sounds like an amazing experience in and of itself, the way you describe the windmills, the paths, the's just beautiful. Your manner is unique and really has a way of bringing the reader to that place and time. I especially hope to one day have a bond similar to what you and John have. It's such a special thing, the connection you have, and you obviously don't take that for granted. Recognizing that is as special as having it. Has he seen the beautiful way you refer to him?? :)

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